Thursday, July 20, 2017

New Jersey’s king of hospitality




Ken Kubik, CEO of Grass Roots Turf Products, was an integral part of last week’s 2017 U.S. Women’s Open for many hard-working individuals.  Kubik oversaw the grounds department hospitality, ensuring meals, uniforms, housing and many of the day-to-day needs for more than 80 people were met.

“I used to be called chairman, but there was no one under me, so we dropped the chairman,” explains Kubik.  The ten-to-twelve previous months of planning have been filled with soliciting donations from vendors, rounding up volunteers, and eventually overseeing the grounds hospitality area during the event.

When asked how Kubik became involved with the Women’s Open, Trump National Bedminster Director of Grounds Rob Wagner explains, “we’ve been friends for a long time.  I don’t think either of us asked each other.  It was just assumed.  Not, ‘hey do you want to do it?’, but, ‘when are we starting?’”

Wagner says Kubik’s efforts made a tremendous impact on the success of the grounds department.
“He’s got a ton of experience doing this.  The direction, keeping the timeline and moving [the process] the way it’s supposed to.  If he wasn’t around, everything would have been last minute.  We would have put the golf course first.  He took a lot of the angst off of us.”

This is the tenth time that Kubik has managed the volunteer and hospitality operations for a large tournament.  He enjoys doing it more now than ever because “I get to utilize all the experience I’ve gained doing this over the last 20 years.”

With nearly a full year of hard work involved in preparing and executing the hospitality duties, it leads to the question: why do it?

Kubik’s answer is simple: “The hospitality area is meant to be a ‘thank you’ for these guys for the enormous sacrifices they make by being here.  Besides their skilled work [and] the horrible hours they put in – before four in the morning to up to ten or eleven at night – they volunteer to do this.  They don’t get paid.  The fraternal nature of this industry is a big attribute.”

The "thanks" don’t end there.  Kubik puts a big emphasis on ensuring that the vendor sponsors are secured early, and get as many accolades as possible all year long across as many forms of media as possible.  Sponsors are the key. “If we can’t make expenses we wouldn’t have this extraordinary hospitality area.”

Wagner had a unique opportunity that he used to thank his hospitality leader. “He (Kubik) went on vacation and was gone for quite a while.  He hadn’t been home yet and I wanted to surprise him.  We had an opportunity to go and visit Marine One in a hanger somewhere and I know he loves stuff like that.  I asked him, ‘I need you for something, can you come over?’ Before he even went home to see his wife, he came right here no questions asked.  That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Kubik’s reaction, “it was awesome.  We were told we could take pictures but couldn’t tell anyone where or put them on social media until Monday [four days later]. That was so cool that I told them I’d even wait until Tuesday!”

While the structure of this event offers no financial assistance from the host organization, dollars from previous hospitality endeavors not spent have been donated to area turf and golf foundations, including the EIFG. Through Kubik’s efforts, the hospitality donations have exceeded $100,000 in total over his years of service.


The Northern Trust – formerly The Barclays – will return to Ridgewood CC in Paramus, New Jersey during the 2018 season.  Will Kubik be back in his role as “Mr. Hospitality” (so named by Baltusrol’s Director of Grounds Mark Kuhns, CGCS)?  That remains to be seen.  But if I were a vendor in New Jersey, I would be looking for sponsorship information in my email inbox right after the 2017 Women’s Open champion holes out her last putt on Sunday!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Welcome to the Maine event: Pesticides

While Montgomery County, Maryland, continues to stay in the national pesticide-ban spotlight, the battle persists for the use of pesticides in the state of Maine. One of only seven without statewide preemption of pesticides, the state has seen environmental advocates continue to march town to town with their message. Amid all the meetings, emotion and noise, one well-placed voice was heard. That message started the next chapter in the Maine pesticide saga: legislation for state preemption of pesticides.

Information began flooding email inboxes on a Friday, stating that there would be public testimony to the Maine legislative state and local committee on the governor’s bill LD 1505. This preemption bill would give the state the sole authority to authorize pesticide application.  The messages noted that the meeting would be on Monday. How did this come about? Would the very quick turnaround be a good or bad thing? Two questions that could only be answered in Augusta on that Monday.

The one voice that led to the governor’s bill was indeed well-placed. We all learned that Jane D’Andrea, wife of GCSAA Class A member David D’Andrea at Sable Oaks GC, was the person who wrote a letter to the governor asking for assistance. A follow-up from the governor’s office and further connections with David led to LD 1505.

South Portland City Counil's first reading of its pesticide ban ordinance, which was later amended to include the AI Certification carve out for Sable Oaks GC.

The quick turnaround assisted tilting the number of attendees in favor of the preemption legislation. Many Maine GCSA members were in attendance, including Jesse O’Brien, MGCSA pesticide affairs committee chair, and David and Jane D’Andrea. D’Andrea’s testimony was very important, as Sable Oaks GC in South Portland, Maine, is the only non-municipal golf facility currently covered by a town pesticide ban ordinance. A portion of his testimony tells the story:

“The property sits on about 100 acres of land in what is ultimately one of the most, if not the most developed area in the state. It is a lush and green habitat that is home for a surprising amount of wildlife. The birds and animals that live there are thriving and safe from all things including hunters, cars, and pesticides. The water that meanders through our property is clean and heavily monitored by the Long Creek Restoration group. The only opportunity that the City Council gave us to maintain our regular care of the course, which does include safe and proper use of some pesticides, is to become a Certified Audubon Sanctuary. This is a very involved and expensive task and much more complicated than it may sound. It is, however, likely that we will be able to achieve this designation by the end of the year 2018, thus enabling us to maintain the course properly.”

The committee held two additional work sessions, where no further comments could be given.  Despite the best efforts of the attendees and public testimony (like D’Andrea’s) in favor of the legislation, Maine’s strong desire to preserve self-rule over state sanctions carried. The committee voted unanimously that the bill “ought not to pass.”

Maine GCSA vendor member Jesse O'Brien of DownEast Turf testifies in favor of state preemption of pesticide application.

With approximately 30 individual town ordinances covering pesticides to some degree, the failure of preemption and the persistence of ban advocates will no doubt continue to muddy the regulatory water. Just as likely, members of the Maine GCSA will fight for a seat at the table, engage where possible and stand by the environmental stewardship of the golf industry.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Take advantage of the opportunity to get involved

If there is one consistent part of our industry, it is transition.  Seasons change both environmentally and within the business of being a superintendent.  We are transitioning out of a busy education season into facilities opening, handling staff and weather challenges, and chapter meeting and events.  Just because golf begins doesn’t mean education is put on hold.

In a conversation with one superintendent, he told me that attends almost every meeting and plays golf when he attends.  “I always try to take three things back to my facility from every meeting.”  He explained that through education offerings, conversations with peers, and paying attention to the maintenance practices on a colleague’s course, the fact is, he never struggles to find three items to justify his attendance.  He also makes a point to discuss what he learned with his employer.  “We host a chapter education event every year, so my boss understands there is more to our job than standard agronomic practices.  He sees that we learn from each other.”

I have seen meeting attendance increase slightly at chapter events across the region in the last couple years.  Chapter boards continue to look for a magic bullet to drive you, the members, to meetings.  If there was one, they would have been using it! I’ve written about it before in this newsletter: all attendees are a resource for others.  The value to all members is increased by your attendance!

That point was driven home at a recent chapter strategic planning session.  This chapter will be looking to engage members who they have not seen at a meeting or event in a while.  It will not be an easy goal to achieve.  The board is convinced that members who attend a meeting find more value in their association, and are more inclined to engage other chapter events.  The board understands that they must reach out, and actively promote and invite members to attend.  Has anyone done that for you lately?  Would you come to at least one more meeting if someone asked directly if you would attend?

Another colleague spent a long portion of a visit telling me how golf course superintendents need to play the game of golf.  We should understand the rules, be aware of course markings, engage our customers and members and discuss the sport on every level.  We are employed because of the game of golf; explain to those you answer to how important it is to attend meetings and play

There will always be one or more reasons to not go to a chapter meeting.  If you attend regularly, thank you.  I know I have benefitted because you were a part of the event.  If you have not made a meeting in a while, please consider breaking that habit even just one time this year.  Someone will benefit from information you share, and I am willing to bet that you will gain a lot from being there, no matter where “there” is!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Two magic words

As a parent of nearly 17 years, I have advocated for my children to understand the reason for, and utilize, two simple words: thank you. While they may use those words to be polite, or recognize a small token or gesture, it makes me as a parent proud to hear them verbalized. My hope is the person receiving the thanks appreciates it as well. Two people benefitting from one simple recognition. Is it really as simple as that?

It might just be. Think of your prior supervisors and think of the way they recognized you and others. There are a million different ways to operate, lead, and interact with those around us, but my guess is that we think first of the person who had a positive impact on you because of the positive culture they provided. I often pontificate about culture, and will not do so again this time, however I do want you to think of the number of times those impactful leaders utilized the words thank you. One supervisor who made a tremendous impression on me during my (many) college years made it a priority to use both “please” and “thank you”. So much so that you had to notice. Working third shift cleaning university buildings was nearly as thankless as it got, except the supervisor made it a point to recognize the efforts of the staff at every turn.

Recognizing your staff with simple, respectful use of “please” and “thank you” may go a long way. We are always striving to improve our facilities, and our staff plays the most significant part in achieving those improvements. Asking staff to be mindful of trash, use caution while turning equipment due to environmental conditions, and requesting they stay longer to complete tasks that will make improvements are often inherent requests in our daily duties. They may even know the communication is coming. If it comes following the word “please” and, upon completion of the task, is noted with a “thank you” in recognition, we get back to the previous notion of two benefiting from one simple verbal effort. Did you appreciate that they completed the task? Will they be glad that it was recognized? If the answer is yes, then your words made a significant difference.

While pizza, swag, and time off are often viewed as exceptional recognition of a job well done, don’t overlook the power of well-intentioned words. Note the “well-intentioned” portion of the previous sentence. While sticks and stones may break bones, words given in a tone less than genuine can change your recognition from positive to negative in a hurry. Those words may end up hurting you. Being polite builds respect, and recognition is a driver of employee motivation and success. Make it a priority and let me know how it works for you!

To those who allow me to write in this newsletter, and all of you who read my newsletter content, thank you. I truly appreciate the opportunity to contribute and hope you enjoy the content.

Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 ramblings

Typically, my newsletter offering is an article on one particular topic. I’ve covered a lot of topics through my tenure and have your newsletter editor and board to thank for the opportunity. Of the many outreaches I make and member needs that I address or forward, my newsletter input garners the most member feedback! Full disclosure: I have low standards. When I am told, “I see your mug everywhere,” I take that as a compliment and add that to the “I like your newsletter input” column. While that might be a stretch, it is the column that is always full. I have gotten requests from members about topics, and have written about them, so if you have any topic you would like covered, please let me know and I will do my best. This particular issue is more of a rambling: some small topics that I have come across that might not warrant full-page attention.

Researchers continue to deliver valuable information on turf types that can make a positive impact on our courses and environment. “Tolerant” and “resistant” are words that make pathologists worth their weight in gold, and get the immediate attention of superintendents. If sociologists could study how to make club members and golfers more tolerant and less resistant, we might have a good thing going! Superintendents in the region dealt with a very difficult 2016 turf season, and I take my hats off to you all, but overwhelmingly I am told that it was communication that got them through. The tools that were used may have been different, but the result was nearly always the same: the less water being used on the turf, the more communication it took to manage the important decision makers at the facility. Congratulations to those that did both well.

All politics are local. That is not an earth-shattering statement. But 2016 brought more and more political pressure, aimed at golf specifically, around the region. Water has been in the limelight, but nutrients, pollinators, and pesticide issues have been prevalent as well. Superintendents have worked to educate on each item across many fronts. Bob Searle in Maine, Ken Lallier, CGCS and Kevin Komer, CGCS in Vermont, Greg Cormier, CGCS and Peter Rappoccio, CGCS in Massachusetts, Jim Ritorto in Rhode Island, Peter Gorman and Scott Ramsay, CGCS in Connecticut and many more superintendents and valued vendors have worked hard to push back against regulations and legislation that would make our day-to-day jobs more difficult. Times have changed, and with that, so has our role in the golf industry. We all need to be vigilant and advocate in support of our role as environmental stewards. For all of you that have gotten involved at any level, with efforts big or small, thank you.

Finally, I want to add this last note. It was something that was not in my original article but having heard this from another superintendent, I thought it relevant. Superintendents and many facilities graciously offer our peers in the profession the opportunity to play golf for free. This is a privilege, not a right; no facility is forced to do so. Our industry operates using a code of ethics. The GCSAA has them as part of membership and you attest to having read them when you join. Many local chapters maintain a code of ethics standard as well. Having to contact the host superintendent to alert them that you will be on the property is part of these codes. This does not put the host superintendent into a position to alter his daily routines, change management practices, or ensure that every putt a colleague makes go in. What it does do is offer the simple courtesy of alerting your host that you will be there. I have never heard that an outreach to a colleague has led to rose pedals being placed at the visitor’s feet upon making their way to the first tee. What I have heard many times is the extreme frustration of a host in finding out that a colleague has been on property without notifying the host. Please consider this when making plans to visit another golf course. While the upside may be small, the downside could may make an impact on how you are viewed by your peers. Golf is a sport of integrity; ensure you keep yours intact.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A rewarding internship program

It was a pleasure to join the Baltusrol Director of Grounds and GCSAA past president Mark Kuhns, CGCS, along with his staff, Upper Course superintendent James Devaney and Lower Course (Championship Course) superintendent Dan Kilpatrick for the 2016 PGA Championship. I found my eight days to be extremely busy, fun, and very rewarding. While I hope my tasks were helpful to the grounds leaders and staff, I would like to explain more about the people involved than the challenges of preparation on the course.

Kuhns is not unlike many long time superintendents in this industry: He has touched the lives of many professionals through the years and developed a turf family tree of sorts. Most of those on the grounds team for the 2016 PGA Championship were members of that family. While stops at Laurel Valley, Oakmont, and Baltusrol may lead you to believe building this tree has come easy, I can say with certainty that has not been the case.

Kuhns and his senior staff work hard to populate a very rewarding internship program. They must engage universities and students, try to offer great benefits and opportunities, and deliver an experience that will enable those who take part to be successful in the future, just like many of you strive to do. Kuhns is a Penn State graduate (and very proud of it). It is a relationship he utilizes. The GCSA of New Jersey has a tremendous relationship with Rutgers, which he uses to recruit. Kuhns is an active member of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association (CGSA), so he strives to engage turf students from across Canada to join him for the summer. None of this happens without lots of time and effort. Believe it or not, he continually struggles to fill his intern staff year after year.

How might his program differ? Kuhns makes continuing education a priority for his interns. They attend the annual Rutgers field day, building on their turf school knowledge. Kuhns engages local affiliates to provide beneficial information to his interns on site, adding to those educational offerings. He and the staff cross train the interns on as many on-course duties as possible, broadening their hands-on knowledge base as much as possible.

Offering opportunities like these to your intern may take resources that are not available to you, and that is understandable. Housing, travel expenses, and the loss of a valued staff member for critical times during the summer season might be beyond your facilities ability. Are you focusing on what you can offer? Could you engage your affiliates for educational opportunities at your course? Is it possible for you to take your intern to a UMass or UConn field day? What about an opportunity to introduce your intern to peers at a chapter meeting or other networking event? Can you utilize the successes of your past interns to engage potential new ones? Do you keep in touch with past interns and assist them in furthering their careers, if applicable?

Kuhns success in building an internship program paid dividends at the 2016 PGA Championship. GCSAA documented some of the stories of this success:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Plan to compost your leaves this fall

And there you have it: the season has changed. Gone are the 90-degree days and 80-percent humidity, and now come the days with moderate temperature and cool and frosty nights. Of the many seasons in New England, this one seems to be the favorite of the golf course superintendent. With mud season, black fly season and syringe season in the past, now begins leaf season and the challenges it brings. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering your leaf management strategies:

What do you do with the leaves you harvest off of the golf course? Leaf litter can be added to other course debris to make an excellent compost material. Shredded leaves with untreated grass clippings make an excellent start, with many other options that may be available.

The sustainability session at the 2016 Golf Industry Show was an excellent opportunity for superintendents to trade ideas, one of which was composting. (Side note: Utilizing waste from the food and beverage and on-course containers was an initiative undertaken by one presenter). While actively managing a compost pile will significantly decrease the time needed to achieve a nutrient rich product that can be utilized on your property, even an unmanaged process will eventually be beneficial. Think of the yards of leaves you manage to maintain playability returning to the course as deep rich compost! Site selection and protection of water resources also play a big role in mindful composting. It would be a great project for an ambitious assistant or incoming intern. For more about composting, visit the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment resources page on Organic Waste Management.

While composting may not work within your leaf management strategy, one item to be aware of when blowing leaves to tree lines or property edges is the environment that this litter establishes. Often researched as a wonderful overwintering site for annual bluegrass weevils, it may also be contributing to an increase in tick populations. Last year, Joellen Lampman, School and Turfgrass IPM Extension Support Specialist with the New York State IPM program, reached out to golf courses in her region to study the effects of different leaf management practices and the relationship on the tick population. An unseasonably warm winter in 2015-2016 led to an explosion in the tick population this year, and hopefully some additional research will assist golf courses to develop strategies to manage both leaves and ticks successfully! If you think your leaf litter strategy might be creating increased spring tick population issues, Lampman included some information on testing your site for ticks in her Community IPM fact sheet. Keeping ourselves, staff and golfers safe is always a priority and easy.

Whether blowing, mowing, or picking them up, leaves create an additional labor constraint on our budgets and inconvenience to our golfers. By developing a sustainable composting practice, the property could benefit greatly from the reuse of an otherwise undesirable byproduct. With research, we can also gain a better understanding of the implications of our management strategies on non-desirable species. Best of luck with leaf season, and as we have all come to learn here in New England, keep your eyes on the cars around you when on the roads. Leaf peepers make very poor drivers!